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Martin Nelson
Children of the Dying Hearth

Adult; Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror; (Market)

Resentment festers. Thousands of years after the Empire of Kai’loth fell, the world of Tesseris is tenuously held together by the five pentarchs of the Crux. Outside the massive city, the pirates of the Verdant Sea grow bolder with each passing season, and strange tales spread of villages uprooted as if by giants, giving the pentarchs more pressing matters to worry about than corruption within their ranks. Yet in the shadows an order of monks has secretly trained and sent men into the world to find the lost heirs to the old imperial family…

Within the Crux itself, Damien the Noble Pentarch speaks on behalf of the southern continent. His conscience guides him to end the Crux’s corruption, but he quickly finds that little can be done without entering the shadows and alleys himself. Yet in those alleys normal folk like Fei spend their days, dealing with would-be attackers that target her for her youth and low status as a half-elf. Despite its flaws, some nobles of this metropolis offer their patronage to those like Fei achieve her dreams, but it may come at a price she’s unwilling to pay.

Meanwhile on the high seas, the cabin boy Sea Rat foolishly questions the deadliest pirate the world has seen in generations. Left for dead, he’s discovered and nursed by Wharf, a pirate weathered and beaten by decades of pillaging and plundering. Whether pity or mercy, the two begin an unlikely friendship as they set out to gain notoriety, testing the limits of what it means to call someone family.

Far off from the city and the seas, an elfling named Qel patrols the wilds. A mistake of youth finds him giving his life to the boy Tesador. Qel’s dealt little with other races, but he knows enough of men to see the features of the boy are odd, so much so that many will search for him, just as many have for generations before…

In this marathon first installment of his Annals of Tessian series, Nelson interweaves several threads in the realms of Tesseris, a once-united empire that has been shattered by ancient forces. According to legend, the Imperial Dynasty of Kai’loth once ruled Tesseris peacefully, until the empire fell and its rulers were all but destroyed. Now the scattered lands are controlled by five pentarchs in the capital city of Crux, a place renowned for its corruption–but rumors are spreading of an heir to the old dynasty, and the Order of Drake Knights is tasked with finding him and restoring him to power.

Nelson’s saga is a tangled web of deception, betrayal, and bravery that will keep readers guessing until the very end. He delivers a satisfyingly diverse cast that is sure to please fantasy fans: elf brothers Qel and Qerym know the secrets of the ancient stories, Pentarch Damien has just been reelected and is desperately trying to root out a traitor in the Crux, and a band of independent warriors has stumbled onto an heir with unknown powers. As they try to deliver him alive to one of the last known Ancients—who can train him to fulfill his destiny—their every move is threatened by a terrifying power that is consuming entire villages in its wake. Nelson keeps the tension high: a brutal pirate dead set on revenge inflicts horror at every turn, and his connection to the quest is a mystery until the cliffhanger ending.

Despite this epic fantasy’s sheer volume of names and pages, Nelson manages to keep readers engaged with a well-paced and easy-to-follow plot. He expertly sets the stage for future stories and reveals just enough about each character to pique the interest of readers who enjoy intricate narratives and immersive worldbuilding–and the heroic quest at the novel’s heart proves an inviting way to transport readers through an abundance of extraordinary settings. This elaborate meld of fable and fantasy entertains and surprises.

Takeaway: An immersive fantasy epic uniting magical creatures and humans in a quest to restore an ancient empire.

Great for fans of: Steven Erikson, Peter A. Flannery’s Battle Mage.

Production grades
Cover: C
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: B